CROMWELL, Conn. (AP) — Some of the biggest names in golf are giving up what for many is normally a week off after a major championship to play at the Travelers Championship.
Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson are among those in Connecticut this week, giving the tournament an unusually strong field.
“I just haven’t played the week after the U.S. Open, and thought, why don’t I?” said Spieth, who along with McIlroy is playing at TPC River Highlands for the first time. “You play a U.S. Open and any course you play right after should seem a bit easier and should be fun because of that. Then what put me over the edge was other players’ recommendations.”
Also helping is a new PGA Tour policy this year that requires players to add one tournament they have not played in the last four years, provided they played fewer than 25 events last season. McIlroy and Spieth both met that requirement by signing up for the Travelers.
“I like what the PGA Tour is doing with — not making us — but it’s nice to be able to play an event you haven’t played the last few years,” McIlroy said. “It makes you go to different places.”
The players, of course, still get to choose which place.
Jim Furyk, who shot a tour-record 58 during the tournament’s final round a year ago, said he’s not surprised that players are recommending this course.
It’s a 6,841-yard, par 70 that allows players to shoot for the pins, with the winner usually in the high teens under par. It also has a big risk-reward element on the closing holes, which has made for some exciting finishes around its signature lake.
And it doesn’t favor any particular style.
“This golf course — you go back to 2010 — had Bubba Watson and Corey Pavin in a playoff. I mean, that’s pretty cool,” Furyk said. “Corey was probably one of the shortest guys on tour at the time and Bubba one of the longest, yet this golf course played, so it’s not really a factor. I think it gives everyone a chance to win.”
Tournament officials do a lot of leg work to woo players, understanding they must go the extra mile because of the Travelers’ spot on the calendar.
They provide free day care for players’ children and family outings to places such as amusement parks. They even run a charter flight from the U.S. Open.
“Out of Milwaukee, you’re probably not going to get a direct flight probably to Hartford,” Day said. “So to be able to get something like that to here, the little things like that go a long way.”
The Travelers has become known as the event where in addition to the more than $1 million in prize money, the champion gets a large supply of M&Ms with his face printed on them.
Russell Knox, who won last year, said that may be the coolest thing of all. He hands out the boxes of candies to his friends and sometimes his rivals.
“David Lingmerth’s wife was recently over to the house, and I sent her home with some, just to make sure he had some M&M candies with my face on them,” Knox said. “It really is kind of a big deal.”
Tournament director Nathan Grube said officials have spent years building personal relationships with the pros, and it is paying off. McIlroy, for example, was introduced to TPC River Highlands in 2011, when he was invited to practice here while his then-girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki, was playing at a tennis tournament in New Haven.
The strong field has resulted in a 30 percent increase in advance ticket sales from a year ago.
“It could be a pretty special week,” Grube said.
Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.